Making Love to a Gorilla
If you have ever been to the dog track, you have witnessed a pack of lanky dogs rabidly chase a feeble metal rabbit.
What you have probably not experienced, though, is what happens when the rabbit breaks.
Every dog owner fears mechanical failure. These owners go so far as to buy an insurance rider, known as "catching the rabbit." It is a policy that exists for the unfortunate circumstance when the rabbit stops working mid-race. Insurance pays out as if the dog had died, because for racing purposes it has.
That dog will never run again. Unfortunately, many people manage their careers this same way.
In our industry, we work 60- to 80-hour work weeks, have a BlackBerry tied to our hip 24 hours a day, and struggle to take a two-week vacation. We are told to tolerate the process in exchange for the promise of a glorious ending.
I can't help but wonder: How many of us are chasing the rabbit? How many of us are sitting in jobs without an end goal? How many of us will catch the rabbit only to figure out it wasn't that exciting after all?
"Mr. Holland's Opus" was cute for 90 minutes, but very few of us actually want to be staring down the barrel of a 30-year career, and find ourselves stuck in some "temporary" job. I went through my entire childhood without ever hearing a kid say that he wanted to grow up to be an Account Coordinator.
To poorly paraphrase the great poet Robert Strauss, "A job is like making love to a gorilla. You don't stop when you're tired; you stop when the gorilla is tired."
A similarly prolific thinker, Drew Carey, once said, "You hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar."
The combination of a disappointing job market and the media's celebration of the entrepreneur, has caused nearly everyone to want to start a business. When I ask interviewees what their long-term career goals are, more than 75% want to own their own business. I have gotten thousands of emails from aspiring entrepreneurs asking how to start businesses in everything from waste disposal to cupcakes.
In publishing, the barriers to hanging a shingle are so low that the temptation is even greater. If you are contemplating starting a business or a career change, here are five ways to avoid chasing the rabbit:
1. The one-sentence rule: The best businesses, like the best life goals, are those with simple, easy-to-understand visions. Comedian Lewis Black said it best, ""You don't want another Enron? Here's your law: If a company, can't explain, IN ONE SENTENCE, what it does... it's illegal." How many of you can explain your career goal in one sentence? How many can describe your company in one sentence that resonates with customers?
2. Not everyone needs to run something: Unfortunately, business magazines have gone overboard glamorizing the role of the entrepreneur. As a six-time founder, I can tell you that real-life start-ups are not nearly as glossy as you would think. Ignore the myths of setting your own schedule, and being your own boss. These are just oft-repeated fables. The reality is that your boss becomes a multi-headed monster made up of customers, partners, employees, investors, and a board of directors, each placing competing demands on you.
3. Job titles are meaningless: I have sat through too many performance appraisals where employees were motivated by job title. Your job title is completely meaningless, especially at a start-up. Get over it.
4. Travel more: It is amazing the excuses people find to not prioritize travel. I have a friend who spent two years traveling the world at a total cost of less than $15,000. There is no better education you are going to get than exploring other cultures. In this economy, wouldn't you rather be hunting for ancient ruins than job hunting?
5. Learn how to play the violin. Famed business professor Peter Drucker was once asked by one of his students how to become better in business. His response? "Learn how to play the violin." I started doing documentary and travel photography two years ago, and it has made a tremendous impact on my creativity, and approach.
How do you avoid chasing the rabbit? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments.